Following Your Heart: The Yogi Diet
Part of becoming a yogi means learning the do’s and don’ts of the practice. In Eastern tradition, these are called the Yamas (the don’ts - restraints) and Niyamas (the do’s - observances). These ethical guidelines set forth by Patanjali (seen as one of the founders of yoga) are seen in a similar light as then Ten Commandments of the Jewish and Christian religions. While I plan to discuss all of these in a later post, today I’d like to look at one of the most debated yamas – ahimsa.
Ahimsa simply means nonviolence. That’s seems simple enough, right? What is there to debate about? Well, many yogis feel that ahimsa should be practiced with respect to all humans as well as animals. And that’s where the debate comes. If we are to take ahimsa seriously, than consuming meat and even other animal products contradicts this practice of nonviolence. For this reason, many yogis adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet and lifestyle.
What makes this discussion even more complicated is that some yogis feel that not eating meat is harmful to their own bodies and, consequently, their yoga practice. If you’re harming your own body with your diet, how is that ahimsa? Even T.K.V. Desikachar (another one of the founders of modern yoga) is known to have suggested a sickly young yoga eat some meat in order to improve his health.
So what is a yogi to do?
What I recommend (and had to do for myself when confronted with all of this in my training) is to do your research. Find out where your food comes from and learn the truth about how it is produced. It will not be pretty, I assure you. Once you feel like you have a good idea of what goes on with food production, I invite you to sit with it. Turn your gaze inward and find out how you feel about what you just learned. What does your heart find acceptable?
Some people, after research, find that they are no longer able to consume meat or any animal products. And this is okay. Some people still feel comfortable consuming fish and dairy. And this is okay. Some people find that they are still able to purchase and consume meat as long as it was produced and processed in a humane way. And even this is okay. As long as you are being honest with yourself and your lifestyle lines up with your values, it is all okay. Because, just as each individual yogi’s physical practice develops and becomes their own, so must the rest of their practice.
If, after your research and reflection, you find that you are happy with your diet and feel no twinging of the heart to change, I will say this; the practice of yoga has a funny way of working on you. Keep an open mind and be open to change. You never know what your heart might say.